Pamela Uba: First black Miss Ireland reveals she's suffered racism and bullying since win

·4-min read

The first ever black Miss Ireland says she has received racist abuse since winning the title this week.

Pamela Uba, a former asylum seeker, became the first black winner of the title in its 74-year history when she was crowned on Sunday evening.

She told Sky News she had been overwhelmed with congratulatory messages, but that she had also received a "lot" of racist comments.

"You'd be surprised," Ms Uba said. "You would get a lot of bullying online, racism online, and I've experienced it quite a lot, especially since becoming Miss Galway and then becoming Miss Ireland. There is a minority there that feel the need to put out negativity."

One Twitter user described Pamela's victory as: "Shameful. Should have been deported long ago. Disgusting."

Another commenter on Instagram said "a black woman doesn't represent the prototype of Irish women", while another wrote: "So we all supposed to applaud the globalisation otherwise you'll be silenced?"

Ms Uba replied on Instagram: "Sad to say, I did expect this type of behaviour. This is just a snippet."

She told Sky News: "All I can say is that hurt people are the ones hurting people, and you shouldn't let them break into your bubble and break you down."

The 26-year-old, who moved to Ireland from South Africa when she was seven, said her win was a "significant moment" for Ireland and its minority communities.

"This crown is not only mine, it's for me and for the Irish people", she said. "The people in Ireland that feel they never belonged, it's for them as well. It's for all the little girls and boys that relate to me and my story."

Although she qualified as Miss Galway, Pamela spent much of her youth in neighbouring Co Mayo.

"Ireland is becoming more and more multi-cultural," she said, "and it's great to see more and more of us being represented in the media and in Ireland as a whole. I'm from Co Mayo, which is not like New York or something, there's not a lot of us around there."

She added: "I think that everybody should be represented in that society. The world is becoming more and more diverse because we're able to travel so freely. We need to be able to embrace that and we need to see more people being represented."

The Uba family moved to Ireland in 2004, after experiencing severe financial troubles and a lack of state support. They chose Ireland because a family friend was already living in Dublin.

They entered Ireland's much-criticised Direct Provision system of mostly privately-provided accommodation for asylum seekers, while their legal status was processed. Those in Direct Provision must abide by strict rules and endure often poor living conditions. They are not allowed to work, and must live on a tiny allowance. When the Ubas arrived, it was around €19 (£16) per week for an adult.

"People are left in a system with very cramped spaces," Pamela recalled, "where you can't do anything for yourself really. In my time you couldn't work, you were only given €19 a week and €9 a week for a child and you had to live off that.

"To be stuck in that position for a long time, it's very damaging for a family. We were living in a caravan for a year; you wouldn't expect to find yourself in that position."

Pamela and her family remained in Direct Provision for 10 years. "It was a difficult time, I went through a lot of depression," she said.

The threat of being deported constantly hung over the family, Pamela said.

"I was telling my mum that I'm potentially going to be sent back to South Africa where I'd be selling lemons on the street or something. That's how I felt as a child, that I'd be going back to nothing."

Eventually the Ubas won the right to remain in the country, and Pamela became an Irish citizen earlier this year.

Some of her online trolls accuse her of being ungrateful towards the country that took her in, an accusation she quickly rejects.

"I've never ever said I was not grateful for what Ireland has done for me, because I am grateful," she said.

"This is my home. I take pride in the Irish people and their generosity towards bringing people into the country - it's such a brilliant thing to do. It's not the people I'm talking about when I say Direct Provision is awful - it's the system I'm talking about. That system needs changing."

The Irish government has announced plans to completely overhaul Direct Provision by 2024.

For now, the woman who spent a decade in the asylum system before making history is focused on ignoring the trolls and representing a more diverse Ireland at the Miss World competition in Puerto Rico in December.

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